What does it mean to be in charge of your own destiny? Do you have a handle on what you want and what you’ve created for yourself? Or have you been swept up with the current, unwittingly fulfilling others’ agendas, bringing you material success but prompting you to compromise your values and integrity? And, if so, how do you proceed? Those are some of the thorny questions probed in the hilarious, biting, new satire, “Sorry to Bother You” (web site, trailer).
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) desperately needs a job. The long-unemployed African-American Oakland resident lives with his aspiring performance artist fiancé, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), in the garage of a home owned by his Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews). He lands an entry-level position at a telemarketing company, where, thanks to the advice of his seasoned co-worker, Langston (Danny Glover), Cassius manages to become quite a success by effectively employing his “White voice.” He’s such a whiz, in fact, that he gets promoted to the position of “power caller,” a high-paying job reserved for a few gifted telemarketers who’ve demonstrated their ability to sell just about anything to anyone.
However, unlike the books he had been selling in his original position, Cassius now finds himself being tasked to peddle more questionable commodities, including, among other things, the services of indentured workers whose labor is tantamount to modern-day slavery. Such prospects give him momentary pause, but that hesitation quickly evaporates when he sees the kind of money he can make by going along with the program. Within no time, Cassius sees himself earning fortunes far greater than he ever could have imagined. He’s able to trade his uncle’s garage for a luxury apartment and to obtain a snazzy new set of wheels. He’s living large, to be sure, but it comes at a cost, most notably in his relationships with Detroit and with his friends and former co-workers, Salvatore (Jermaine Fowler) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun).
If that weren’t enough, though, the stakes soon get raised even higher when Cassius is offered a lucrative but dubious new job from Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), owner of a conglomerate that’s his employer’s largest client. However, when Cassius learns what would be expected of him, he’s appalled at the prospect, one that would require some truly unnatural efforts on his part. He must now decide what his soul is worth to him – and whether or not that’s something he’s willing to sell.
These are questions many of us face from time to time, be it in our work lives or in other significant contexts. They often push us to come to terms with who we are and what we’re willing to do, essentially meeting our personal integrity head on. And “Sorry to Bother You” never hesitates to squarely confront these issues from a variety of angles. In doing so, the film offers biting social commentary on a variety of fronts, including the conditions of the lives of the working class, the disparity between haves and have-nots, and the shocking lengths that the greedy will pursue in the name of wealth acquisition. However, in addressing these matters, the film is far from all seriousness and oppressive gloom and doom. Rather, it skewers these topics with biting satire that serves up big, outrageous laughs that also make viewers think.
Without a doubt, director Boots Riley’s feature film debut is one of the weirdest, wildest movies I have ever seen – so strange, in fact, that I’m amazed (but thankful) that this project got the green light to go forward. This dark, poignant comedy weaves elements of satire, sci fi and social commentary along with a plot that keeps viewers guessing from start to finish, with unforeseen twists thrown in at seemingly every turn. Not all of the jokes land successfully, and even some that do work at times seem out of context, but the bulk of the humor is uproarious, over the top and tinged with thought-provoking observations. The picture also provides a superb showcase for Stanfield, who is clearly stepping up as an acting force to be reckoned with. To be sure, “Sorry to Bother You” won’t appeal to everyone, but those who have an off-the-wall sense of humor and enjoy unconventional offerings like “Get Out” (2017), “Brazil” (1985) and “Liquid Sky” (1982) will certainly appreciate this one.
Most of us will likely agree that aiming for the stars is a laudable goal. But how far are we willing to go to reach them? That’s something many of us are having to ask ourselves these days, and that’s certainly something none of us should look at as being a bother.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
When is enough enough? For some of us, the answer is obvious, and it marks the point where we put our foot down. But, for others, the line may not at all be clear; in fact, it could be essentially invisible, which can lead to all kinds of problems. Learning how to identify these demarcation points and subsequently implementing the requisite barriers can thus become a crucial life skill as a middle-aged mom struggling with the issue discovers for herself in the new road trip comedy-drama, “Boundaries” (trailer).
Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) desperately needs to set some boundaries in her life. The single mother from Seattle seems compelled to take on all of the world’s hard luck cases. For starters, she’s a serial rescuer of stray dogs and cats, adopting so many animals that her house has become a virtual kennel. Then there’s Laura’s teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a bright, talented illustrator whose outspoken attitude (and even more brazenly provocative drawings) frequently land him in trouble with everyone from his mother’s would-be romantic interest (Ryan Robbins) to the school principal (Jill Teed). Even Laura’s job offers no relief; in her role as an executive assistant to a wealthy, needy, demanding socialite (Dolly Wells), she’s often put upon to perform miracles to fulfill her boss’s whims.
However, as onerous as these circumstances are, Laura’s biggest challenge comes from her 85-year-old father, Jack (Christopher Plummer). Daughter and dad have a long history of issues that stretch all the way back to Laura’s childhood. As a shady, unreliable, often-absent parent, Jack spent more time working on an assortment of dubious business and gambling schemes than he did as an engaged father raising Laura and her sister, JoJo (Kirsten Schaal), frequently leaving them on their own. These circumstances thus forced Laura into becoming “the responsible one” at an early age, a quality that quite obviously carried over into her adult life. Unfortunately, given the lack of attention that she so desperately craved from her old man, these conditions also created a mindset that she could never do enough – for anyone – in her quest to receive the approval and acknowledgment she sought.
It’s no wonder that all of this has landed Laura in therapy. And even there she doesn’t let up, incessantly continuing her people pleasing ways with her counselor (Chelah Horsdal). Laura’s therapist tries to convince her that she’s basically doing well; all she really needs to do is set some healthy limits for herself, a message that Laura hears but that she doesn’t let sink in, because she fundamentally believes that she could (or should) be doing more, no matter what the circumstances. That’s a belief in which she’s about to get some truly powerful life lessons.
Even though Laura has been intentionally trying to implement some boundaries between herself and her long-absent dad, it’s become difficult, ironically enough, given his now-persistent cell phone calls. She tries ignoring the endless incoming messages, but conditions at home finally force her hand into making contact with Jack: When Henry gets expelled from his school for drawing yet another of his lascivious illustrations, it’s apparent he needs to attend an institution for those who have special needs and gifts, an expensive proposition to be sure. Which is where Jack comes in. Despite the questionable nature of his business dealings over the years, Laura is under the impression that the old man is at least fairly well off financially and that he’s someone she can call on to help her out. Unfortunately, that proves to be a false assumption, particularly when Laura learns that Jack is being kicked out of his nursing home and has nowhere else to go.
Jack asks to move in with Laura and Henry, but she won’t have it, believing that he would be a bad influence on her son. To counter that proposal, she makes arrangements to have Jack move in with JoJo in her Los Angeles apartment. Jack agrees but on one condition – that Laura drive him from Seattle to LA, an idea she resists – that is, until she learns that Jack will give her the money for Henry’s school if she complies.
Laura finds Jack’s proposal tempting but wonders what’s behind the road trip. In part, he contends that, because of his failing health, he wants to spend some time with her and Henry while he has the chance. But it’s also at this point when the reason for Jack’s expulsion from his nursing home and the source of proposed funding for his grandson’s schooling become apparent: In yet another questionable business deal, Jack has become a purveyor of high-end pot, with clients lined up all along the West Coast – conveniently enough from Seattle to Los Angeles. If he can make delivery of his wares via a road trip, he’ll collect the money and give it to Laura for Henry’s tuition.
Knowing that Laura won’t go for the idea, Jack tells her no details about his plan; he simply says he needs to make some stops along the way from Washington to California. He does tell Henry, however, recruiting him as a sort of apprentice, an idea the young man finds way cool. The teen thus becomes a de facto accomplice, as well as a guardian of grandpa’s back at times when the plan is in danger of being revealed.
And so it’s under these circumstances that the unlikely trio and an assortment of rescue pets set off on their journey. It’s one in which they’ll have a variety of adventures and many conversations about a past that desperately requires closure. They’ll also encounter an array of colorful characters, including some of Jack’s old friends (Christopher Lloyd, Halldor Bjarnason, Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex-husband, Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), the man who walked out on her and Henry three years earlier.
Will the travelers find the answers they’re looking for? Will the wounds of the past heal? And will the boundaries in question be set to where they should be? That’s what the journey is all about. And, to paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it is.
Road trip movies provide the perfect metaphor for the journeys of our lives, and the trek in “Boundaries” is no exception. To find the lessons and answers we seek, sometimes we need to get away from familiar circumstances to clear away the clutter and the camouflage that might obscure our view in more familiar, more comfortable environs. The journey provides a progression of new events, experiences and perspectives that shake us up (and, one would hope, out of our complacency) in finding fresh ideas, beliefs and manifestations. In essence, it encapsulates our experience as ever-evolving individuals, leaving behind who we were and enabling us to become who we believe we can be.
But where do boundaries figure into this? Consider Laura’s experience. She obviously has no trouble giving of herself and seeing the need to step in and offer help when it’s required by those who are less fortunate or who require guidance. In those circumstances, though, it’s possible to spread ourselves too thin. This, in turn, can dilute our efforts at caring for ourselves, and, in the process, we may unwittingly put our own needs on the back burner while in service to others. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be of assistance, but, when we carry the idea to an extreme, we can readily shortchange ourselves. This not only keeps us from attending to our own requirements, but it can also ultimately hamper what we do for others by causing us to operate from a position of personal weakness instead of personal strength. That can leave us depleted, ineffective and of little use, both to ourselves and our beneficiaries.
This is where the benefits of boundaries come into play. One might assume that their establishment would be something seemingly easy to accomplish, yet many of us have trouble with this. Many of us keep giving and giving (often “until it hurts,” as many charities and religious institutions have encouraged over the years), never learning when to draw the line. For some of us, then, learning how to establish necessary, delineated limits may ultimately prove to be just as challenging as learning how to break down barriers. And, because of that, we may need to intentionally attract to ourselves circumstances where we have opportunities to learn those very lessons, difficult or challenging though that may be.
This pleasant, frequently amusing road trip/family comedy-drama deals in the realities of establishing healthy limits in a way that few movies are willing to take on as forthrightly as this one does. It does a fine job of examining knowing when to set limits, when to break rules and when to let go of expectations that are never going to be fulfilled. The picture’s excellent ensemble cast of both human and animal actors lends considerable credibility to the narrative, making for an enjoyable viewing experience. Admittedly, there is some occasional over-the-top wackiness that seems out of place, but “Boundaries” overall offers up a story that effectively weaves warmth, fun and heartfelt emotion into a pleasing, satisfying package.
In his legendary work “Mending Wall,” poet Robert Frost wrote “Good fences make good neighbours,” a sentiment apropos to this film. While Frost may not have been speaking about the kinds of boundaries addressed in this picture per se, he might as well have been, because his advice is just as sound, as many of us often find (and that Laura is beginning to discover for herself). May we always be able to locate the necessary metaphysical bricks and mortar when we need them – especially when the neighbours start to become a little too intrusive.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
That Voice Within
A Voice told Bill Bennett to slow down. “Slow Down?” he thought. “I want to speed up to catch the green light.” Bill was on his way to the airport. The Voice told him again “SLOW DOWN!” So he did. Those precious seconds bought Bill his life. A transport truck barreled through the intersection, and Bill was within a hair’s breadth away from sure death. It made him wonder. “Who or what was that Voice? Where did it come from?”
Join host Frankie Picasso and yours truly on a special edition of The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More as we interview Bill about his life-altering journey, as detailed in his new documentary, “PGS: Intuition is Your Personal Guidance System.” Tune in by clicking here.
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.